by Jackson Sveen

DAVIDSON – As resources become strained, implementing public safety officer programs has been a cost-effective way to maintain services for North Carolina towns.

A public safety officer (PSO) has dual certification as a police officer and a firefighter.

Students from UNC Charlotte’s Masters of Public Administration program completed a recent study where they looked at the financial feasibility of creating a PSO program in the Town of Davidson.

Kristopher Steele, one of the MPA students to present their findings to the town board on Dec. 11, said PSOs spend about 80 percent of their time as police officers and 20 percent as firefighters.

The students compiled Davidson’s police and fire department data from 2010-2011 to determine how the town stacked up to national standards and other towns implementing PSO programs. Their study looked at 18 towns that have implemented successful PSO programs and compared them to Davidson using 12 metrics.

The study cited Knightdale and Morganton as North Carolina towns with successful programs.

The advantages of implementing a PSO program in Davidson, the students contend, would be long-term cost savings, an increase in productivity, improved response time to emergency calls and improved ISO rating, which affects insurance rates.

The downsides, the report said, were high start-up costs associated with training and new equipment, salary increases because of additional responsibility and resistance from police and fire personnel.

“We are in a period, particularly with the fire department,” said Mayor John Woods, “where we are in a bit of a hybrid volunteer mode that is a longstanding American small-town tradition. It’s becoming more and more difficult to staff.”

Through their research, the students determined that Davidson would be a viable community for a PSO program and recommended that the town add two additional police officers in the next five years along with a PSO to supplement staffing issues.

Their recommendation was for Davidson to hire new officers for these positions instead of training current town employees to take on the dual role. Using current officers would add to the strain on resources and take officers out of service while completing firefighting training.